Joan Thompson, a Costco supervisor and mother of two sons, was arrested Friday after stabbing a fellow diner at popular Manhattan steakhouse Ruth’s Chris. The police and prosecutors say that her actions were criminal, and that Ms. Thompson ran from the scene without paying. But Ms. Thompson’s family claims that she was acting in self-defense. “This is not even her fault,” Thompson’s dad Carlos Stapleton said outside of Manhattan Criminal Court after her arraignment. “My daughter spoke to me about what took place … that she was in a restaurant eating, and people started an argument with them,” said Stapleton, 84. “The man came over, held my daughter down and then the man’s wife going to smack my daughter in the face. Now what is my daughter supposed to do? Lay there?”
Violent altercations and claims of self-defense are, by their very nature, highly emotional situations, and the law of justification is extremely complicated. In cases such as these, Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins P.C. attorneys would analyze and scrutinize the following:
The outcome of the case will depend on the answers to those questions and the ability of the lawyers to convince the jurors that Ms. Thompson was justified in her actions.
When a person asserts self-defense, he is essentially saying that he did commit the act, however, he was justified in doing so. In New York, the law of justification is codified in Penal Code Article 35. The key to understanding justification is to recognize that it is all about proportionality and reasonableness. Your response to an attack has to be proportional to the attack that you are defending yourself from. For example, if a person comes up to you and starts to punch you in the face, you may be justified in punching him back to defend yourself.
However, in that same hypothetical, you would not be justified in taking out a gun and shooting your attacker dead. However, if your attacker pulled out a knife you may be justified in shooting him. It all depends. The attack or threat of attack must also be imminent. The key issue in determining whether you are legally entitled to defend yourself is whether you subjectively believe that you must use physical force to defend yourself AND whether your belief is objectively reasonable. In other words, not only do you need to actually believe that you need to use physical force, but a neutral and average person looking at the situation from your perspective must have come to the same conclusion.
Earlier this year, the Manhattan District Attorney dismissed murder charges against a bodega worker after evidence came to light showing that he was justified in defending himself.
Thompson was arraigned yesterday, and bail was set at $40,000, a high amount depending on whether Ms. Thompson has any criminal history.
The criminal defense lawyers at Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins have decades of experience handling cases involving self-defense claims. This year, partners Arthur Aidala and Michael Jaccarino were able to successfully convince a jury that their client, who stabbed another, did not do so with the intent to kill him. If you or a loved one needs criminal defense representation, contact our office anytime.
At Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, our criminal defense lawyers have a wealth of experience in both Federal and State Court, and have defended some of the most high profile cases in the country. Contact us today if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges of any kind.
Michael Jaccarino, and the criminal defense attorneys at Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, PC, have decades of experience.
For more information or more fact-specific discussions, call our office and ask to speak with attorney Michael Jaccarino.